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China, N. Korea Agree to Hold 6-Way Nuclear Talks - 2003-10-30

Chinese state television says China and North Korea have agreed in principle to go ahead with plans for another round of six-way negotiations to end the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The agreement was reached on the second day of a visit by China's number two leader, parliament chief Wu Bangguo.

State media said Mr. Wu met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and television footage showed them in Pyongyang.

Chinese officials say the agenda the high-level visit focused largely on economic and trade issues. China is North Korea's closest ally and its main supplier of food and fuel.

Earlier, Chinese government spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said China was prepared to offer economic aid to North Korea.

"China is willing to provide substance support within its capacity to North Korea," she said. "China also will encourage enterprises in China to cooperate with North Korea in various forms."

The crisis centers on U.S. demands for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program, which it has continued to develop in violation of its non-proliferation agreements.

North Korea has said it will not do so unless the United States signs a non-aggression pact. North Korea has since softened its stance, saying it may consider a new U.S. proposal that includes multi-lateral security assurances.

China has been eager to get North Korea to attend a new round of six-way talks with South Korea, Russia, Japan, and the United States. Beijing hosted inconclusive talks in August. All sides agreed to meet again, but North Korea has since refused to set a date.

Analysts say offers of economic assistance appear to have been aimed at convincing the North to return to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program is warning that North Korea's 2003 harvest, although the best in years, is not yielding enough grain to feed its 20 million people through the winter.

The WFP's Rick Corsino told reporters in Beijing the need for more international aid is urgent.

"The crisis is critical," he said. "We are within a matter of days of being forced to reduce our distribution to the elderly. The pipeline will be broken come January."

Despite heightened tensions over Pyongyang's development of its nuclear-weapons program, the United States and South Korea remain top food donors to North Korea.